Spanish Vuelta reduces format for 1st time in 35 years

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MADRID — The Spanish Vuelta cycling race has reduced its format for the first time in more than three decades because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Organizers said Wednesday this year’s race will have 18 stages, three fewer than the usual format. The last time the event did not have 21 stages was in 1985.

The change was confirmed after the three initial stages that were set to take place in the Netherlands were canceled earlier on Wednesday. The Vuelta was supposed to start on Aug. 14 in the Dutch regions of Utrecht and North Brabant but the rescheduling of the race because of the coronavirus forced local organizers to cancel the country’s participation.

Dutch organizers said the project “had been designed as a big summer party” but would not be able to take place later in the year.

All three of the Grand Tour races – the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France and the Vuelta – have been pushed back because of the pandemic. A new starting date for the Vuelta and Giro have yet to be announced, but they are expected to take place after the world championships, which are scheduled for Sept. 20-27.

Vuelta organizers decided not to replace the stages in the Netherlands and will start the race in the Basque Country city of Irun in northern Spain. It will be the first time since 1961 the race will begin in the Basque Country.

“Obviously, when you design the race, you hope to never have to make changes of this magnitude, but we have to be sensible with the current situation and we have to accept that it is very difficult to replace an official departure at this late stage, given all the institutional and logistic planning that it involves” Vuelta director Javier Guillen said.